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In Grove Place and PLEX neighborhoods, hopes and fears of development


This is the second article in an occasional series on neighborhoods and the fall city elections.

If you had talked to people living downtown 10 years ago, many would have said they were concerned about how to revive it. Now the worry is more about how to manage rapid redevelopment. The Grove Place neighborhood – that little nugget of old and modern townhomes, Gibbs Street, and the Eastman School of Music – is on the edge of it.

Grove Place didn't just happen, its residents say. This historic city neighborhood has survived a devastating fire, downtown's decline, and demolition of some of its oldest homes. An active neighborhood association, rezoning, and preservation efforts have paid off. And many of its residents, some of whom moved in years ago, see themselves as urban pioneers, stewards of its recent revival. With mayoral and City Council elections not far off, they want candidates to know that they believe they've earned a voice in much of the development going on right next to them.

They expect transparency from government, and they have mixed views about how well the current city administration has engaged them in the process.

In some instances, the city, developers, and the neighborhood have been quite collaborative, says Jack Eisenberg, president of the Grove Place Association. For instance, some residents wrote letters to city and state officials earlier this year supporting proposed veterans housing near the intersection of Delevan Street and Scio Street.

And city officials seemed to be responsive to the neighborhood's strong opposition to an earlier proposal for a downtown casino, Eisenberg says.

But there have been some low points, too. Some residents didn't support filling in the Inner Loop, and they say it has rerouted a lot of traffic to University Avenue and East Main Street. They're also concerned about the future of Block F, the vacant lot diagonally across Main Street from the Eastman Theater.

Mayor Lovely Warren's decision on Midtown's Parcel 5 is a contentious issue for some. Warren chose a proposal by Morgan Communities and Rochester Broadway Theatre League for a $130 million theater and a 13-story apartment tower over Andy Gallina's condominium and commercial building. RBTL and Gallina had presented their ideas to the neighborhood association, but the RBTL-Morgan proposal wasn't made public until Warren announced her decision.

"This is a great breach of trust with the neighborhood," says resident Bob DiPaola. "I don't want to be part of the window dressing. If we're going to have a voice, we want to be heard."

Given the neighborhood's proximity to current downtown development, city officials should be asking developers, "Have you connected to the neighborhood association?" says longtime resident Kim Russell. "We need to be part of the discussion."

Another issue for Grove Place residents is making the area more attractive to families with children. They say that the YMCA on East Main Street and the Eastman School of Music help to bring some younger people into the neighborhood. But Grove Place is virtually childless, they say.

They would like to see the Rochester school board put greater emphasis on neighborhood schools, and though they are glad to have School 58 – one of the district's most sought after – on University Avenue, it's a citywide magnet school.

Development's also an issue in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood. Residents CITY spoke with said that they're not pleased with recent development in their area and that they're not optimistic about future projects, either. That's something they intend to make that clear in the upcoming election.

PLEX hugs a portion of the southwest side of the Genesee River and runs more or less parallel to the southern end of South Plymouth Avenue. Its neighbor across the river is the University of Rochester, the region's largest employer. And during much of last decade, the UR's impact has expanded into the neighborhood with the Daybridge Suites hotel and student housing.

A second pedestrian bridge connecting the UR's River Campus to the PLEX neighborhood opened in 2012. And PLEX has become attractive to students who want to live within walking distance of the UR. It's also enticing to home buyers looking for bargains.

But PLEX is a largely African-American neighborhood where household incomes are low. While many residents welcome the long-awaited development, some are wary. They worry that gentrification is starting to push long-time residents out.

New bars and restaurants have opened primarily to serve the students, but they haven't been as inviting to the residents who live there, says Dorian Hall, a PLEX board member who is running for a seat on City Council.

"I welcome development," says longtime resident Patricia Neal. "But we want good development that benefits everybody."

Residents say they have nothing against students, but as more have come into the neighborhood, residents are finding it harder to park on the street. They have to compete with students trying to avoid paying the UR's parking lot fees.

And some residents say that what was promoted as improvements to South Plymouth Avenue actually blocked easy access to Genesee Park.

"The flow of traffic doesn't benefit the community," says Dorothy Hall, director of the Plymouth-Exchange Neighborhood Association. "It's created inconvenience for us. Everything here is done to benefit the UR, not the community."

Hall says the neighborhood association doesn't want any more corner stores, either.

"We have so many seniors living on fixed incomes, and they are the ones that have to walk to these stores and they don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables to keep them healthy," Hall says. And she says she doesn't appreciate the way some politicians and developers talk, sometimes dismissively, about poor neighborhoods.

"I am not a person of poverty, and I do not allow myself to be labeled," she says. "My house is mine, the grass is cut, and there are flowers. I take care of it and intend to keep doing that as long as I can. I am not poverty."

Though some PLEX residents in a group CITY met with support Mayor Lovely Warren and others support Jim Sheppard, their mistrust of politicians, developers, and the UR is almost palpable. For instance, they've wrestled for years with the issue of cleanup at the former Vacuum Oil site on Flint Street. The current owners, DHD Ventures, and the Department of Environmental Conservation are currently advancing a plan to clean up the state brownfield site.

But some residents fear that developers are already scooping up properties near the Vacuum Oil site cheaply.

"We want to be on top of this," Dorothy Hall says. "We don't want more apartments for students. We want R-1 single-family zoning."